The September strike among Sodexo-employed dining workers has drawn attention to Mason Dining’s preexisting program with inmates from the Fairfax County Jail.

The work-release program, which Mason Dining began participating in during the fall of 2008, allows non-violent offenders to take positions on campus through the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office Pre-Release Center. According to a Mason Dining representative, 16 inmates currently work at on-campus dining locations.

This came to the forefront of attention on Mason Dining practices when a recent account in the Fairfax Times said more inmates “were in the process of being hired to pick up the slack” during the Sept. 8-9 strike in which several dozen dining workers walked out of their jobs and protested working conditions alongside organizers and other support from the Service Employees International Union.

According to Sodexo’s Director of Public Relations Alfred King, the representation is inaccurate.

“No pre-release employees were hired because of the strike,” said King in an e-mail interview earlier this month. “And yes, despite SEIU’s attempt at disrupting our activities, Sodexo continued to conduct its normal business operations, including the hiring process.”

A “small number” of those in the hiring process at the time of the strike were participants in the pre-release program, said King.

According to the head of Mason’s dining operations, many of the program participants began work before the strike. Eleven of the 16 participants in the program started as early as August.